05. June 2019
No risk, no future
Interview with Ruud van den Bulk, Wageningen University
By Sarah Liebigt
We need to carefully use technologies like CRISPR, says Ruud van den Bulk, Wageningen University in an interview with Farm and Food 4.0. Companies and institutes are looking at Brussel these days. The next European Parliament is expected to make gene editing and connected research a little easier.
Farm & Food: Wageningen University keeps coming in first in rankings regarding agricultural research, it has become a hotspot in this field, in development and exchange of expertise. How did that happen?
Ruud van den Bulk: I think there are numerous reasons. Of course the size of Wageningen University research is important, we are altogether close to 6000 personnel. About half of those 6000 is doing research for the Wageningen Research Institutes. We are not an ordinary university. We are covering science from fundamental up to applied research and have a flow of knowledge from the university to the institutes and the other way around. Altogether that is a unique combination.
In order to create value with your research you need other partners. Luckily we are used to work with and for the industry. We know how they are thinking, we speak their language and this makes it easier to make the right decisions. I think that is quite important for the position we have obtained.
Next week’s elections will influence Europe’s take on gene editing. Do you think the new parliament will allow a faster progress in genome research and gene editing?
We certainly hope that we will witness a positive development when it comes to gene editing. At the F&A Next 2019 we have heard a number of presentations on the advantages of gene editing and we do believe that the advantages and benefits of gene editing outweigh the disadvantages that may also be there.
When you talk about new technologies like gene editing, especially CRISPR/Cas, you always have to follow precautionary principles. You have to be sure that what you bring to the market is not having a negative effect on humans, animals or the environment. We believe that with the very precise way of making changes we indeed have a technology that allows us to create products which are environmentally friendly and which help us in contributing to the sustainable development goals and to be able to produce more food with less input.
And it is good to realise that traditional breeding and mutation breeding result in variation in the genome of new plant varieties as well, and in a much higher frequency then with the use of new breeding techniques such as CRISPR/Cas. The assumption that the use of CRISPR/Cas is riskier is not based on any scientific evidence.
We hope that there will be the right changes and that the legislation will change in the near future. I think it’s important that we change from making decisions based on technology towards decisions based on the products that me make. But it will be a tough way to get there.
What do you think: which challenge will we master first?
It’s difficult to look into the future. We need to involve society into the discussion about gene editing. People need to better understand what the benefits are as well as possible threats. They can help us to convince the European commission and the European parliament that this type of change is for the better of society.
A risk-free society does not exist.